Preventing and Treating Bladder Infections Naturally
ZOLTAN P. RONA, M.D., M.Sc.
It is a very fortunate woman who has never experienced the anguish of a bladder infection. Up to 20% of all women in North America suffer from at least one episode each year of this condition that is referred to by doctors as “cystitis” or “UTI” (Urinary Tract Infection).Nearly 40% of all women who have never had a bladder infection will eventually get one within the next decade. The bacteria most often associated with the condition migrates from the colon and is called E. coli. Other less common invading bacteria are Citrobacter, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas, Proteus, Enterococcus and Staphylococcus.Bladder infections are indeed very common. Pregnancy, due to hormonal changes favoring bacterial growth, doubles a women’s risk while sexual activity increases the chances by a factor of ten. Bacteria tend to thrive in a body that contains a lot of sugar. Diabetics and those with high sugar intakes are thus more likely to get bladder and other infections. The overuse of antibiotics and stress are two more factors predisposing to higher rates of bladder infections. Congenital or acquired urinary tract structural abnormalities blocking the free flow of urine or causing urinary reflux also dramatically boost the infection rate.
Thanks to anatomical differences between men and women (women have a much shorter urethra that is more prone to bacterial invasion), men rarely get bladder infections. In men, bladder infections do occur but only secondary to structural abnormalities, neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis, prostate infections, immune system weaknesses or as a morbid consequence of rectal intercourse.
Symptoms often include a burning pain on urination, urgency to urinate, urinary frequency, foul-smelling, turbid or dark urine, low abdominal pain and, in some cases, fever. A visit to the average family doctor, emergency room or walk-in clinic usually ends with a lab requisition for a urine culture test and a prescription for a 7-14 day course of antibiotics. While this mainstream approach is most often satisfactory, it is not necessarily the safest, most cost effective or disease preventive approach to the problem. At least 50% of all women who suffer from recurrent bladder infections will develop kidney damage, sometimes leading to kidney failure.
It is also important to note that there is a condition called interstitial cystitis. Here, the symptoms may well be identical to those of a typical bladder infection. The difference is that with interstitial cystitis no bacteria are involved. The condition is due to an inflammation of the internal lining of the bladder, which, in turn, is thought to be due to food allergies or some other damaging factor like candida or some other fungus.
What to Do
First and possibly most importantly, especially for bladder infection prevention, maintain proper hygiene. Wipe from front to back after every visit to the toilet to prevent urethral contact with colonic bacteria. Shower before sex and urinate after if at all possible. Urinate when you get the urge instead of holding on to it, to, prevent bacteria there from taking a foothold. Avoid any sort of vaginal deodorants, because these change the flora and increase susceptibility to infection.
Increase your fluid intake to increase the bacterial flushing effects of the urine flow. It’s best to use pure spring water (at least half of all your fluid intake), herbal teas and diluted fruit and vegetable juices. For most adults, this means drinking at least 2 liters of fluids daily. Avoid anything containing caffeine (especially soft drinks and coffee) or alcohol because of their irritant and dehydrating effects on the bladder.
Since bacteria thrive on sugar, avoid all simple sugars, refined carbohydrates and full-strength fruit juices. Eating more garlic and onions is a good idea because these vegetables have a good antibacterial effect.
Next, see if you can add at least a half a liter of unsweetened cranberry juice 4 times daily. Hippuric acid and other ingredients of cranberry juice prevent bacteria like E. coli from adhering to the bladder and urethral endothelium. Freshly squeezed blueberry juice is an effective alternative to cranberry juice.
If one has interstitial cystitis, however, cranberry or blueberry juices could be irritating, making symptoms worse. For the latter type of bladder problem, making the urine pH more alkaline (higher pH), is the answer. This can be done by going on to a more alkaline ash diet (see my book, “Return to The Joy of Health”) and/or by supplementing citrate salts (sodium and potassium citrate) or bicarbonate.
Most bladder infections will respond very nicely to these simple measures. For more stubborn or recurrent cases, the use of some combination of nutritional and herbal/homeopathic supplements may be required.
Nutritional Supplements (until symptoms cleared for at least 1 week)
Vitamin C with bioflavonoids – 500 – 1000 mg every 2 hours depending on how much the bowels can tolerate without diarrhea
Vitamin A – 10,000 – 25, 000 IU daily
Mixed carotenoids (from a green drink containing chlorella, spirulina and blue-green algae) – 100,000 IU daily
Vitamin E – 400 IU daily
Zinc citrate – 30 mg. Daily
D-Mannose – 1000 – 2000 mgs. 3 times daily; this is a natural plant-derived sugar that prevents the adherence of bacteria to the cells lining the urinary bladder. One can compare this to Teflon that prevents bacterial stickiness to the bladder.
Probiotics (broad spectrum friendly flora) – 3 capsules or 1 tsp. Daily
Herbal Remedies (until symptoms cleared for at least 1 week) Oil of oregano – 3 or 4 drops under the tongue 4 times daily Uva ursi tincture– 1/2 tsp. 3 times daily Goldenseal tincture – 1/2 tsp. 3 times daily Horsetail tea – 1 cup 3 times daily.
Teas made up with one or more of the following herbs: bearberry leaves, lemon balm, birch leaves, stinging nettle leaves and roots, dandelion leaves and roots, parsley, yarrow and rose-hips. Flavor with licorice root tincture or stevia to taste and use ad lib until symptoms are gone.
Well over 90% of bladder infections can be dealt with satisfactorily using these natural approaches. For those who fail to respond or who are plagued with persistent discomfort, seek out the help of a natural health care provider for more individualized treatment.
Pizzorno, Joseph E. Jr, Murray, Michael T., Joiner-Bey, Herb. The Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine. Churchill Livingston:New York, 2002
Alive Research Group; Gursche, Siegfried, Publisher; Rona, Zoltan P., Medical Editor.Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. Vancouver:Alive Books, 1998.